Gov. Tate Reeves Defends Trump’s White Supremacy Remarks; Mum on Ending Jim Crow Law

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declined to criticize President Donald Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacists during the first presidential debate. Photo courtesy Gov. Tate Reeves

The first 2020 presidential debate took one of its ugliest turns when President Donald Trump refused to say he condemned white supremacists after moderator Chris Wallace asked him to do so.

“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked Wallace. 

“Proud Boys,” Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, interjected, referring to a violent right-wing white supremacist group.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. Then, he pivoted to Antifa, which does not refer to an organized group but, rather, to a broad range of anti-fascist ideologies that developed after the defeat of European fascism in World War II.

“But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem,” the president said.

Gov. Reeves on Proud Boys: ‘I Don’t Know Who That Is’

At a Hinds County press conference today, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said he condemns white supremacists, but refused to condemn Trump’s words.

“Yes, I condemn white-nationalist groups. I watched the debate last night, and your interpretation of what the president said is not the way I interpreted it,” Reeves told a reporter without elaborating on how he interpreted it.

When asked about the Proud Boys, Reeves offered only a six-word response: “I don’t know who that is.”

Like Trump, Reeves pivoted to talking instead about Antifa. He reiterated Trump’s claim that Democratic-run cities have seen a surge in violence in recent years, without noting that Republican-run cities are seeing similar spikes in violence nor that the surge happened under Trump.

“I think what we need is to respect and appreciate our law-enforcement officers, and we need to recognize that they have very challenging jobs, and what we need to recognize is that law enforcement, like in every other profession, there is a very, very, very few who make mistakes,” Reeves said. By “mistakes,” he was apparently referring to the numerous incidents of high-profile police killings of unarmed Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Reeves Declines to Endorse Repealing Jim Crow Elections Law

Today, Reeves also declined to say whether he would support a ballot initiative to repeal a Jim Crow-era law that implements an electoral-college style system for non-federal, statewide offices. Candidates for positions like governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general must win not only a majority of the popular vote, but also a majority of state House districts in order to win the overall election.

The law, which white-supremacist legislators inserted in the 1890 state constitution to make it more difficult for Black voters to select statewide officeholders, became an issue in the 2019 election, when Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood ran opposite Reeves for governor. Because Republicans control a majority of Mississippi’s GOP-drawn House districts, the competitive election raised the possibility that Hood could have won a majority of the vote but not a majority of house districts, although he did not win a majority of either.

Last fall, a federal judge declined to rule on the electoral requirements, though, and urged the Legislature to rectify the racist election law.

Earlier this year, the Legislature decided to put the issue before voters, who can vote for or against repealing the Jim Crow law.

“This was put on the ballot by the Mississippi Legislature this year because of a lawsuit that was filed last year in an attempt to help the Democrat get elected to the office of governor. Everyone knows that. … It is interesting to me that this law was passed in the Jim Crow era, but as long as Democrats were winning (Mississippi elections), they didn’t seem to mind it,” Gov. Reeves said at today’s press conference.

When Mississippi adopted the 1890 constitution, one of its framers, white supremacist Mississippi House Speaker James K. Vardaman, explained its purpose: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. Mississippi’s constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n*gger from politics; not the ignorant—but the n*gger,” admitted Vardaman, who later became a Mississippi governor and then a U.S. senator.

Today, Reeves said he has not decided whether he will support repealing the Jim Crow provision.

“The only thing I can tell you with certainty, because I spent time thinking about it, is I plan to vote to re-elect President Donald Trump,” he promised.

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